Tag Archives: Knowledge

Incubating the Next Thing

Someone who appears on the collective public radar seems to be an ‘overnight success’ because we weren’t aware of any of the preparation this person had gone through.  Somehow this becomes part of our ideal of success then, that it just happens to you.  But that newly minted person of renown will most likely tell us that there was plenty of trial and error, effort and planning that went before this heightened awareness.  There was an incubation period.

 

Subject matter expert, thought leader, influencer – these are the words that we use to describe the people who know their stuff in whatever part of the professional world we inhabit.  They have experienced localized, or possibly broader success that may or may not have seemed to come out of nowhere.  But again, there was deliberate and consistent effort and planning on their part during some sort of incubation period.

 

Incubation will include some sort of training – formal or informal – and practical experience.  At the start, it might not be exactly clear what is being cultivated, perhaps a generalized affinity for certain activities that could support a career; say communication or math skills.  And I think that is key, many of us hearing someone else’s success story will hear about deliberate, decisive action and think of this as a potential deterrent for our own success because we don’t have clarity on our own direction yet.

A different kind of incubation.  (public domain image)

A different kind of incubation. (public domain image)

 

That successful person might have had clarity from their early days, but more than likely their intent developed slowly through an incubation period that, at the time, looked nothing like the fomentation of a successful business person.  (How many people do you suppose who knew Thomas Edison during most of his early years thought that he was all over the place?)

 

So if most subject matter experts and thought leaders today had their own messy incubation periods, that means that we all still have time to look over our careers to date – at what worked and what didn’t seem to – and see it all as trial and error, steps to nurture our next thing.  To encourage the incubation of our own success.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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All the Little Life-keeping Tasks

I am amused or perhaps bemused by the occasional articles in various sources about people who have successfully simplified their lives and are happier for it.  I like to be aware of where all my edges are, so I have never been one for creating complexity in my life.  And yet, I cannot imagine how people are able to really pare down these days with all the bits and pieces that worm their way into your needs.  (For instance just consider all the types of insurance…)

 

Anyway, I have been taking stock of the status for many of the little things that help us to keep a life.  Particularly because quite a few can be out of sight, out of mind.  I just realized that I cancelled my teeth cleaning in January, meaning to reschedule and haven’t gotten back to it, oops.  This is why I take stock periodically.  I keep a list of all these bits and pieces, again so I know where the edges are – because these are all things that can trip you up when you don’t have them in order when you need them, but things that tend to work their way out to the edges of your awareness.

 

Many people let the condition of their skills and career work out to the edges, and often even fall over the edge.  And then when they need to take stock, say in the midst of some change at the office, they don’t even know where to start.  Doing the work every day somehow felt just like keeping that skill current.  But it turns out that it wasn’t, at all, and now it’s a problem.

public domain image - French predictions for the future

public domain image – French predictions for the future

 

We can fill each day with plenty of tasks, we get bombarded with reminders of this or that bit of life-keeping thing from the dentist or the insurance company or HR; and we can relax and let the busyness of the tasks or the external reminders take the lead.  It can all just be too much.

 

Or we can set aside an hour or two as often as we feel the need and go through some of this life-keeping that gets out to the edges, check up on it.  I’m going to go hunt up the dentist’s phone number now.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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Reforming Perfectionism

I’ve told anyone who is interested that I have been a reforming perfectionist for the last decade or so.  I say reforming because there is no end, no reformed and never a concern again.  Perfectionism is a mindset that is powerful and pervasive.  And not in my best interest.

 

Perfectionism is constantly on the lookout for all of the things that you did wrong or said wrong, not necessarily to improve upon them but often just to highlight your imperfection.  Reforming perfectionism is constantly on the lookout for ways to improve what you have said or done and therefore helpful.  As in ‘yep, I forgot that breathe and take one more look step before I sent out that email so I missed the attachment’.   I will work harder to make this a step every time in the future.

 

We are human and therefore have flaws; but also capable of learning and improving.  Perhaps perfectionism has been more of a friend to you than it has been for me.  I am happy for you, but have found more perfectionists that have been hampered by this trait, similarly to what it has done to me in the past (and currently when I am not vigilant).  What parts of perfection are worthy, and which should be discarded or ignored?  Where does a quest to be better turn into self-imposed disappointment?  We each must find these answers in our own time and way.

Nature makes beautiful things, without worrying about perfection.

Nature makes beautiful things, without worrying about perfection.

 

I have found reforming perfectionism to be more open, perfection is terribly rigid.  Rigid doesn’t allow one opportunity in a fast changing environment.  Rigid perfection creates a lot of negative energy, and there is already too much of that out and about; improvement is fluid and adjustable and positive.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations, All rights reserved

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When did Built to Last become Planned Obsolescence?

I could do a bit of research and find out the actual answer to my question from a marketing or product development standpoint, but that isn’t my objective.  (If you know, please do share.)  I’m more interested in this question in an esoteric manner; we seem to have started this idea with products, quietly and slowly (washers and dryers used to be built for 15-20 years, now 8 seems to be the norm yet they cost comparatively more!) and the idea has spread to other parts of business and life.

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

End of Child Labor is Progress (Cotton mill workers,1909.Lewis Hines, National Child Labor Collection-Library of Congress.)

 

Now progress is different than planned obsolescence – I learned to type on an old manual typewriter (my pinky fingers will never forget the force exerted to depress those keys was nearly beyond their power) and am thrilled to now use Word on my laptop to create.  That is progress, new inventions to improve upon old process.  Calligraphy and quill pens are now lovely in living history settings and used for artistic expression, but we will stick with our gel pens, thanks.

 

And as for applying the concept of obsolete to people, well skills might get a little stale, but not a person.  A person who has learned how to navigate a changing world always has something to offer.  We might have to slow down our hurry just a bit, sit down and have a chat, and then cull through the conversation for the good stuff.  But there will be good stuff; solid knowledge on making a life, earning a living, solving problems.

 

Older people might not know their way around all of these devices, but should your GPS break most would be capable and happy to show you how to read a map.  To tell you a story or two about the area where you find yourself.  How it once was, how it came to be what you see before you.  Sometimes this means a place quite different as the story progresses, but since nature is cyclical sometimes it means returning to something similar to what it was before.

 

One of the answers to my question might be, ‘that’s progress’.  Hmmm.  It seems to be more about pure commerce to me, which is what it is; but then we should carefully consider what parts of the world to apply the concept.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Hassle Anticipation

We’ve all heard the advice not to buy trouble.  But we should also be prepared for certain eventualities.  Some days, certain activities are just like… doing your taxes or going to the dentist.  A hassle, an aggravation, frustrating – and so on.  But sometimes we expect something to go wrong and so we start to work ourselves up, just ready.  Going to get your license renewed, for instance.  Encountering certain people at work, perhaps.  Waiting in line just about anywhere for anything.  (I’m not an early adopter so I really don’t get the folks that stand in line, sometimes for days for the latest release of any technical item – don’t ever tell me you hate to wait in line.)

Construction is always a hassle.

Construction is always a hassle.

 

Back to hassle anticipation – could we possibly experience the hassle just because we became so certain that we would have one that we somehow brought it on?  I’ve certainly watched it happen to others – someone ahead of you in line is giving off that vibe by fidgeting, sighing, or other cues gets up to the counter and their voice has that edge right off the bat.  I imagine that I have probably done it too, though no example comes to mind as I type.

 

We are bound by rules almost everywhere we go – the employee handbook at work, bank rules, insurance rules, school rules – piling up in front of us and blocking us from just getting the simplest thing on our to-do list done.  (Well such-and-such isn’t going to happen today because I forgot to bring that stupid form with me.)  It is such a hassle, why are there so many rules?

 

We know on one level that we need the rules to create structure and protection for certain rights, but do we need so many?  (The answer to that is probably not, a lot of rules are around just for the sake of rules or to benefit the institution over the individual…)

 

Back to anticipating the hassle, logically we are just in knowing that these established steps and rules can make things go slowly so why do we not allot enough time to accommodate this awareness?  I’ll just be a minute at the bank at noon on a Friday – sure.  Why is the doctor running late at 4pm, I have to get my daughter to dance class you know?

 

We are mad at the system, the institution for making our quick task or errand drag on and put us farther behind for the next one.  On top of it, we knew this would be a hassle, so we waited to the last possible minute to do this thing so it isn’t like we can come back later – how dare they?

 

How dare they indeed.  Do you have any stories about hassle anticipation?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

 

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Productivity, Progress & Purpose

Besides all starting with the letter p and thereby providing me with a lovely alliterative title, these words all have work in common.  We should all keep these words in mind as we toil away because they will help us to stay away from busy work – the kind that looks good from a distance, but really has little substance.

 

These words do have much in common, but are not entirely synonyms of each other.  A task can be purposeful, but not always directly productive.  Productivity and purpose may not always lead to progress.

 

I believe that I have previously mentioned my sticky note on my desk that reminds me to act with purpose.  Which doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally do something just because – sometimes down time is just the right thing to be more productive.  Too, purposeful acts can be small and give a person a nice energy boost needed to tackle larger activities which will improve progress.

 

public domain, 1895 Mountain Climb

public domain, 1895 Mountain Climb

Progress is only possible when there is an identified larger goal.  Something to work towards like a degree or a promotion.  Then acting with purpose, in a productive manner will move a person or a company closer to the goal progressively.  Progress isn’t always as linear as we would like it to be so then it is beneficial to have productive and purposeful activities to help us to feel effective.

 

Progress in certain situations, like job search, is particularly sticky.  In job search so much activity can seem to be fragmented and give the job seeker a feeling quite the opposite of progress, purpose or productivity.   Learning new things, even disparate things is progress in this situation.  Just not necessarily linear progress rather being one facet of the purpose to gain new employment.

 

Similarly, there are days at work when progress might not be achievable, but purposeful acts can still be completed.  Phone calls returned, plans started for later and so on.

 

What phrases help you to prevent busy work?

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Promises, Promises – The Follow Up Trap

More than once I have called someone back to complete a request and had the person on the other end of the line express astonishment that I called back.  Gratifying for me, but disturbing too.  If the opportunity to gain kudos is just this easy, why aren’t more people doing this simple thing, follow up?  Oh my, in the interest of complete disclosure I must also admit that I have been the person who hasn’t followed through on something too.  Though I constantly work on myself to keep this to a bare minimum.

 

The excuses (er, reasons) we don’t follow up:

  • Forgetfulness, plain and simple – completely gone from the memory banks, or just a wisp of a thought that ‘I told X that I would do something, I think…’
  • Fear – So-and-so didn’t really mean that I could call to make an appointment to (learn / discuss / ask…) about Y
  • Didn’t really ever mean to – be honest, the offer to do something, be somewhere or whatever was made in the moment with no intention of completion

And so very many more that you would stop reading if I tried to list them, and really there isn’t any point.  But if I’ve gotten you to consider some of your own reasons why you get trapped, then I’m glad.

public domain crab trap

public domain crab trap

 

The maxim that the road to hell is paved with good intentions came about and has lasting power for good reason.  (Except for the last point above.)  We become so disappointed with others when they let us down, but can we look in the mirror and hold our own gaze steadily on this topic?  Probably not, for we know (thanks to another maxim) that to err is human.

 

But we can also decide to do better each time we have a ‘next time’.  We can understand our triggers for forgetfulness – if you ever ask me about something that requires follow up in a space where I cannot or do not write it down, then beware that this is one of my follow up downfalls.  I have learned to ask you to help me to remember with an email or some other prompt.  (Particularly if you have a smartphone because I do not – archaic, I know.)

 

We can disable the fear with the thought – another maxim, our ancestors know us so well – that nothing ventured is nothing gained therefore we shouldn’t decide for the other person whether they meant it or not and go ahead and make the request.  Politely follow up once or twice, and then forward this post on follow up to them…

 

Sometimes all it takes to be successful is just this little thing called follow up.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Separating Out Thought Strands for Clarity

It would be such a relief to come to a resolution or to gain some understanding in one or perhaps several nagging corners of our lives, wouldn’t it?  Clarity on the issue and ‘what would happen if I do x versus y’.  But this relief will only come with the unsnarling of the various complications that are revealed when we track the particular strand of thought.

 

Imagine if we could actually isolate a thought strand and follow it through it’s whole length, teasing it straight and clear of the spots where it intersects with other strands so that we could really examine it without having to consider anything else.  ‘But if’, ‘what about’, and all other contingencies could be swept aside, to be slowly added back in later; after your head is clear on the main issue.

 

thinkingHow many times have you thought that you had a solution to something, went to tell someone and been stopped cold by, ‘did you consider…’?  I came at this issue in a different way earlier this year; We Want Linear, We get Billy from the Family Circus.  We crave simplicity, but we are complex and we have created a complex world.  There is nothing for it, but to roll up our sleeves, find a relatively quiet spot and carefully think through one problem at a time.  One step at a time.

 

Messy, inconvenient, tedious – I know.  It would be so much easier if someone would just come up with a formula for each of our more common difficulties (like a vlookup for getting along with coworkers) where we just plug in our particulars in the right part of the formula and voila – instant solution.  But wait, remember that we like to be treated as individuals and not just a number?  Snap, now we have to decide – formula or individuality?

 

Individuality usually wins out because the thing about those formulas is that they have snarls of their own.  Daggone it.  Maybe someone is working on a real pensieve, the thing Dumbledore used in the Harry Potter books…

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Consternated, Bewildered and Confounded

We must be getting smarter than previous generations.  How else to explain it, the severe lack of use for these words – consternated, bewildered and confounded?  We live in a hard to navigate and complex world that folks from a couple of generations ago would describe as downright consternating, if not wholly bewildering.  And yet, we have almost entirely ceased to describe ourselves and our surroundings in these terms.

 

It couldn’t be that we have reduced our vocabularies to short, easily texted words, no not that.  It must be that we have grown in our ability to understand complexity, that we are no longer ever perplexed, at sea, baffled, befuddled, or bemused.

public domain old movie still

public domain old movie still

 

Except, I must say that I have my moments when I am baffled, when something is unclear.  When I would be caught with the cocked-head dog pose if someone took my picture.  Maybe I am alone in my consternation, left behind while everyone else figured out the keys that protect against bewilderment.  I text – yes I learned when my children were in their teens or I wouldn’t have heard from them.  And I confess that texting long words is tiring.  My fingers find it perplexing, even.  They cannot keep up.

 

Rules about the appropriateness of texting while at work can be bemusing.  Or is your employee handbook silent on the topic?  It must be ok by default then, confound it.

 

Are you ever befuddled?  What causes it?  I hope you never find yourself at sea without a paddle, unless you have a motor that is.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Forget About Fix It and Forget It

I wonder if the copywriter who came up with ‘fix it and forget about it’ thinks about how that phrase has permeated our modern over-booked lives.  I don’t even remember the product that prompted the creation of the phrase, do you?  (I Googled it and got a series of cook books, didn’t keep searching.  So join in and make this a conversation if you know.)

 

Well, the phrase is apt for cooking, but not a good fit for most other parts of life and certainly not a good career strategy.  I have seen it applied too many times as a career strategy though.  Yikes.  It often goes something like this:

  • Get some schooling – degree, certificate, what have you
  • Get a job somewhere
  • Get regular promotions
  • Retire

By the way, this isn’t a plan – it resides somewhere closer to the wishes, hopes and dreams department but sometimes people have trouble telling the difference.

 

No, fix it and forget it jobs are those ones that leave you in a series of tiny cubicles until you aren’t in the workforce anymore.  (And just a note for you foodies out there, I know that you don’t think this is apt for cooking either, that it only applies to one pot meals for busy families, not carefully planned experiences.)  It means doing the bare minimum, marking time until the end of each work day, never raising your hand for special projects, not taking the initiative to learn new things.

 

Abraham Lincoln, known to be a strategic thinker, public domain-Matthew Brady, 1862

Abraham Lincoln, known to be a strategic thinker, public domain-Matthew Brady, 1862

Since this blog is all about thinking, I’m not sure why a fix it and forget it type might even be reading this, but you never know.  Plus the phrase got stuck in a groove of my head and this is a way to exercise it out.  (I have no idea why it popped in and stuck around, perhaps I heard it on the radio like those songs that loop in your head sometimes after you get out of the car.)

 

Maybe I have been thinking about copywriters since I read a review of a new book coming out that is based on the ‘a diamond is forever’ DeBeers campaign from 1947 (written by a woman, Yes!) that lives on.  Anyway, the United Negro College Fund had a point; a mind is a terrible thing to waste.  So don’t fix it and forget about it, use it.

 

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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